Congee (pronounced KON gee), also known as jook or juk, is a classic Chinese breakfast dish; I like to think of it as the Chinese version of oat meal and more. It can also be used during convalescence from illness or during acute diseases. It’s a very nourishing and easily digestible food which can help enhance immunity, strengthen digestion and prevent illness depending on what additions and garnishes are added. Basic congee is also excellent for a delicate stomach or bowels and will help normalize them. Congee is a rice porridge that is bland in taste and can act as a base with many additions/garnishes to achieve different purposes and appeal to different tastes.
Congee can be cooked in a large pot on the stove with enamel, glass or stainless steel pots (avoid aluminum and iron), in a slow oven (250 degrees) or in a slow cooker (Crock-Pot).
This is a basic recipe for congee that you can add to as desired. It serves 6-8. There are no rules about what to add. See below for suggestions.
- 1 cup white rice (or ½ cup rice and ½ cup barley)
- 6 cups water (or stock or a combination of the two)
- 1 teaspoon salt
Bring the rice, salt and water to a boil in a large pot. Add any additional desired ingredients after bringing the rice to a boil, before turning down the heat to medium low. Cover and cook on medium low heat, stirring occasionally, until the rice has the thick creamy texture of porridge (1 ½ – 2 hours on the stove top or in a slow cooker, 4+ hours in a slow oven).
Optional additional ingredients to modify the basic congee:
chicken, beef or vegetable broth
Optional garnishments to add to the finished congee:
shredded lotus root
thinly sliced green onions
hard cooked eggs
cooked meats, fish, and vegetables
crushed ginkgo nuts or peanuts
You can also make a sweet version of congee by adding Chinese dates (jujubes) and a bit of rock sugar.
On a cold winter day, there is nothing quite like a hot bowl of congee to warm your body. Add garlic, fresh ginger and diced onion to the congee while it cooks and serve with a dash of cinnamon and a pat of butter.
Some of you may wonder why the above is promoting white rice when you have been convinced that brown rice is a superior healthy nutritional alternative. In some cases that might be true. Please Google “white rice vs. brown rice” for a full preview of the arguments/discussion. Personally I am not interested in that argument here.
Traditional Congee which aims to fortify the constitution uses white rice which is a great idea as it is more digestible; if you are trying to nourish a deficient body it does not need to fight through the dense qualities of brown rice to get benefit.
Ultimately I think we need to remember the truism that everything can be beneficial in moderation which means white rice in congee is not harmful as long as we consume it in reasonable portions and reasonable frequencies.
Experimental chefs today are playing with the congee basic formula to use brown rice and other grains. Search the wonderful wide world of the internet for other ideas of how to play with this nourishing porridge. Just keep in mind what you are trying to accomplish. Taste and physical health/wellness don’t always follow the same path.